One of my favorite things about being a teacher is the relationship that is able to be formed between student and teacher. I believe, in fact, that the most important factor in a students ability to succeed is the relationship formed between them and their teachers. This is especially true for students in need of intervention, whether academic or social. Once that bond is established the teacher is able to see each students deficits and strengths and address those specifically.
In forming these relationships, and strengthening these bonds, over the years I’ve come to be amazed how truly different each human being is. One would think that school is the great equalizer. All students are the same age, sitting in the same room, hearing the same lesson, smelling the same smells, and many times even eating the same school lunch. It would seem at some point the students would start to react the same way to new information, and produce generally the same level of work. In my 9 years of teaching however, this has never been the case. In fact, the same is true for all adults I’ve come in contact with. The question then is, “Why?” Why would there be such discrepancies when it seems that all variables remained constant? The answer I believe is in mental models.
Each person carries their own ideas and beliefs into any type of thought process, whether that be in a formal classroom setting or a just a social conversation. If teachers fail to neglect this regarding their students they will never be able to help students reach their full potential. If teachers fail to recognize this regarding other teachers they will never be able to truly communicate shared visions with each other to make enduring changes for the good of the classroom/school/district.
A notion that has consumed my thought recently is the need for me to be aware of my own mental models approaching each situation. I had been so focused on determining others at first that I neglected to check my own mental model approaching each situation. While I was busy thinking, “What is this persons driving force? What are there beliefs regarding ______?” I didn’t think about my own driving forces and beliefs – which are paramount regarding my take on the world around me. When taking the time to determine someones mental model in approaching a task it is of the utmost importance to first understand your own.
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In my school district there are many different committees one can be on. At times it can be overwhelming and make you feel like you’re being pulled in different directions. However, being on these committees also allows one to reconnect with other teachers and administrators across the district periodically and check in with how district initiatives are being carried out (and received) in their schools. It always amazes me how differently things occur at each building when there is such a push from the top for everything to happen the same way.
I happen to work in a school where our principal is the ultimate rule follower. When the district gives a directive she follows it, seemingly even if she doesn’t fully believe in it. This can be very frustrating to the teaches in our school. Many times they are unable to see things from a district perspective and fully realize the initiative of the month may not be exactly what our school needs. This leads to teachers carrying out plans they don’t fully believe in, which confounds the results and creates a negative work environment. This feeling is only amplified when our staff talks to friends working at other schools with principals that aren’t such rule followers. While it is frustrating to be forced into something you don’t believe in for the good of the district, it becomes infuriating when one hears that five miles away another principal is “shaping” the program to fit their school’s needs. This is the point a seemingly well thought out plan from the district becomes the catalyst for a staff uprising.
I guess my question through all of this is where is the breakdown. Is it wrong for the district to feel one plan/goal will satisfy all schools needs? Is it wrong for my principal to blindly carry out initiatives, while hurting the morale of the staff? Is it wrong of my staff to get so upset with out trying to understand the bigger picture? Or, is the one common issue with all parties involved the inability to communicate wants, needs, and/or feelings for our districts visions? My feeling is that a little open communication would fix a lot, but I guess only time will tell.
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Today we had our second Kindergarten math meeting. At the last meeting I was excited to look at the meeting from a different perspective; one I have formed since reading Schools That Learn. However, that meeting didn’t go as I had planned. I got bogged down reviewing the same district initiatives that are being pushed down that I swore I wouldn’t…it’s amazing how hard old habits are to break! Looking back on this meeting I realize that I was trying to do too much at one time. I was trying to jump right into our agenda, while mixing in my “new” way of looking at things. This Kindergarten meeting was different. The first item on my agenda was, “What is our core purpose? Setting goals.” It set the stage right away.
Since I forward my team members the agenda a day before the meeting it gave them all a chance to think about our team’s purpose prior to coming to the meeting. Then at our meeting I was able to elaborate on that point. In attempting to set a purpose we talked about what had been done in the past, almost all of which was reactive to a problem. I asked them each if the things our group had done in the past changed how they, or their co-workers, operated daily. The answer was no. We may have fixed a problem, but then it was just on to the next problem. Next I asked if the team felt that what we had done in the past was still relevant today. Again, the answer was generally no. The things we were doing helped at the time, but then were obsolete a few months later. That led me into my vision for our team; to set goals that would create enduring changes for them and for their grade level partners. It seemed like such a “well duh” thought, but this is not what happened in the past.
Once the stage was set for the meeting we got into other items in our agenda, one of which was reflecting on the year so far with no pretest data. Some teachers felt they missed that data, but all teachers agreed that the data was not worth the time that went into getting subs, administering and scoring the tests, and entering them in our math database. A shared vision was starting to appear. By the end of our assessment conversation it was evident that the teachers had a vision and were ready to set a yearly goal. Our goal for the year will be to produce mini pre-assessments, specific to curricular objectives, to be given prior to teaching those objectives. This would give teachers the opportunity to identify areas of need and strength prior to teaching a unit. A final comprehensive post test could then be given encompassing objectives from all of the pre-assessments. This goal will give us a focus through out the year – a focus that we hope will create enduring changes in teachers lives. In the past we would have looked at old tests, made them applicable to what is taught now, and moved on to the next thing. Now though, we are able to look at our vision over the course of a year and create assessments that will not only give teachers data but (hopefully) allow them analyze their teaching practices through this data.
At the end of the meeting we watched the Derek Siver’s TED Talk on being a leader. It was nice to let them know this team should not be another cause of stress in their lives. They should not feel like as a leader they should have all the answers when returning to their building. Instead they should be prepared to believe in what they are sharing and welcome those that share in it with them. There was a nice calm as the meeting ended. I’m hoping this was because they felt a sense of accomplishment with what we had done for the day, and a sense of relief concerning what their role’s are….only time will tell!
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This week we started to dig through all of the DIBELS data collect last week. We met as a core data team (Principal, Reading Specialist, Math Specialist, School Psychologist, IST teacher, and Guidance Counselor) and looked at each student in the school, deciding which students would benefit from a reading intervention. Next we placed each identified student in a reading group specified to their need. While it was a long day, it was definitely an necessary process.
To help the teachers get into data analyzing mode our Principal decided to have a morning meeting where she shared 3rd and 4th grades’ PSSA results; broken down into reporting categories. Although my school scored well in bot Math and Reading it did not go well. The purpose of the meeting was to look at deficits and brainstorm possible causes. Teachers became very defensive, questioning the whole process. Comments were made such as, “Ok, but what do those numbers and reports even tell me? It doesn’t help me be a better teacher”. I never expected such a bad response. It seemed like the great teacher uprising was about to occur. Most went back to their rooms enraged that the good work they already do is not recognized.
At first I couldn’t understand why people were so upset. Then I realized that I have been able to see the system from the inside, which gave me a completely different perspective. I was able to see my schools vision and saw the good in it. Because my principals rationale wan not clearly communicated at the beginning of her meeting. While most in my school would agree that we can use data to address strengths and weaknesses, they did not see this as the pursose of their meeting. It came to be seen as more of a “calling out”. People ran right up the ladder of interpretation and felt the need to defend themselves. What was interesting to me was as upset as some people were it caused them to take action to address their perceived areas of need The main issue I see with this is that any change that occurs will not be enduring.
Through out this whole process I’ve been reminded how important it is to step back and see the machine in action every once in a while. Doing this helped me see the value in what my principal was trying to accomplish. The breakdown in this instance came in the communication of the message. In times like these one needs to look beyond the way the message is being relayed and look at the message itself.
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I’ve always had trouble completing tasks that I didn’t see a purpose in. I would generally be passive aggressive and not complete the tasks, or complete them in the way(s) that I see best fit. In the past I had always thought this was just an immature aspect to my personality, but as I’ve grown as a teacher and an individual I’ve learned to realize that this is not the root cause. What I’ve found is that I hold on to my values, and my philosophies, VERY tightly. I generally think critically about most decisions I make and never just arbitrarily give an answer. Therefore when a system, such as my school district, is moving in one direction while I may be moving in another I have difficulty in seeing the bigger systemic picture.
One main goal of mine that has surfaced in reading our text, and sitting down to talk, is that I need to better understand my role in the systems with in my life; and most importantly I need to recognize my own mental models that are creating mental blocks with these systems. Reading about the mental model ladder has given me a way to begin this. I fly up that ladder when a system is trying to implement something I don’t believe in. One example that I’m currently engulfed in is the subtle job change that I’ve been pushed into. Although I am a math specialist I am forced to administer DIBELS this year as part of an intervention team. As I learned, of course, I climbed the ladder of inference. I saw that I was being pushed into something I didn’t want to do. Right away I thought, “This means they are phasing out math.” I don’t know if they are/aren’t but it was the first thing I assumed. Next I thought, “So this is what the math team gets for working hard and increasing test scores, more work.” By the end I was left thinking that soon I will be wanting out of my position because this is not what I signed up for. It really is amazing when one steps back to see how one inference leads to another and another, and before long irrational thoughts are sabotaging any chance of truly solving anything. I am NOT trying to convey the message that I now see the light and look forward to DIBELing the rest of my week away. Instead, I feel that I am approaching this with my eyes open. I’m aware that my inferences, if left unchecked, can be dangerous and ultimately destroy my ability to be a productive member of many of the systems I am involved in.
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Schools around the world have the same common goals; create a population of educated individuals that are able to problem solve and think critically about the world around them. Thinking only about this makes being an educator seem pretty straight forward. While it may not be the easiest task, the fact that we (educators) are all working toward these same goals should create an opportunity to develop the best possible plans to reach these goals while learning from those school systems that are succeeding. There is one major variable however that confounds this, human behavior. While two schools could be set up the exact same way, with the same programs and the same teachers, the students’ outcomes could be completely different. I keep coming back to a section in the text that reflects this. Reflecting on this sections has led me to see some of the minor issues that, I feel, are holding my district back.
The section states, “There are….no schools that have their problems figured out in ways that the rest of us can simply copy. All schools, and their situations, are unique and require their own unique combination of theories, tools, and methods for learning”. I think this is such a simple, but powerful idea. To many new teachers this seems like a “well of course” type of statement, however it seems the more seasoned administrators have a tougher time following through with this tenet, whether out of fear or out of malaise.
Much of what is done in schools anymore must be research based. Districts, such as my own, may look at a program and study that program to determine it’s effectiveness. Many times the research “proves” the program to be a success. Upon seeing this some administrators fully buy into the program. They purchase it, send out memos how and when it should be used, and sit back to wait for the positive results. If the initial result isn’t a successful one those choosing the program can refer back to the “research based program” that’s “proven to show success” and say it just needs more time to work; or the program wasn’t as effective as the research reported. However, I feel the problem lies in the way many schools choose and implement these programs. Districts such as my own implement district wide programs that must be carried out in the same manner with in each school. It seems there is no thought about the drastic differences with in each school, which will affect the effectiveness of a given program. One example of this DIBELS in my school district.
We have implemented a 3 year (yes YEAR) focus on reading where DIBELS next will be the main program used for reading intervention. Therefore all district level data teams, school level data teams, and district in-services will focus on raising reading scores…for the next 540 school days. While there are some schools in my district that have struggling readers who could benefit from such a focus, my school is not one of them. We were 87% proficient in reading on last years PSSAs, with the main issue being comprehension. DIBELS next however, is more of a phonics based program with a minimal focus comprehension. How is my school supposed to buy into this? We are not being seen as unique. We are not able to use our own unique solutions to our own unique problems. How should the teachers with the gifted clusters react to being forced to run programs where students must read to each other to increase there fluency?
Society has turned many of our schools into reactionary institutes that respond to past problems to placate the public. It seems that we can never get to the point where districts are able to take a true look at themselves and set in place plans for the future; plans that can, and should, be altered to fit the needs of each different school and classroom within that school. When school systems such as my own are finally given the freedom to do this, we will be on our way to becoming a School that Learns.
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There’s no question that the educational system as is exists today is flawed. There is a large portion of the population that believe the system is broken beyond repair. They feel that we need to start over from the beginning by exploring new avenues such as home schooling, charter schools, or cyber schools. These people feel that vouchers are the answers to the question, “How are we going to fix education?”
There is another population however, who see the system as being broken, but see the rays of hope in public education. These people fully recognize that the system cannot continue to exist as it does today, but rather than scrapping public education itself they would like to analyze the system. Through this, antiquated practices could be eliminated and replaced with processes that today’s students can relate to. These people are the optimists of public education. While they can acknowledge change is necessary they also see the current system as having the structure necessary for that change. I fall into this group.
The acticle Seventeen Reasons Why Football Is Better Than School takes a look at the flaws within this system by comparing it to football. As small as they are, these comparisons can be dangerous in the wrong minds. For example, early in the article the author, Herb Childress, states “We adults could see (inattentive students) as yet another moral problem”. While Mr. Childress has the ability too see these students in a different light as an ethnographer, many in the public (along with a number of public school teachers) see articles like this as evidence of a failing system.
These people have become robotic in their thinking, much like public education has become robotic in its delivery. The “solutions” that are put in place to remedy the “problems” are often standardized, and never EVER used unless research based. Unfortunately much of the research done is done in past systems, trying to prepare teachers for future students. It simply is not always the best option. Many times the best option is one that needs to be developed with a specific district, school, classroom, or student in mind while trying to create thinkers, not reciters. This takes a leap of faith many times from the public and from those with in the educational system. Needless to say, leaps of faith are not always accepted as the best plan of action.
The points laid out in this article are dangerous to those robotic thinkers. These points are exactly what many politicians base their “pro vouchers” speeches upon. Those in public education (and the public itself) need to be very mindful that points such as these are only the beginning of the discussion, not the end. They are the details that help us see where to start our educational reform, not where to kill public education. Authors such as Mr. Childress, as well as public educators such as myself, must be aware of this while examining the system and publicly expressing their opinions.
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My application project has been a great learning experience for both me and my students. I’ve learned more about this specific lesson, and using digital stories in the classroom than I ever expected. The best thing about the learning occurring with in myself is that it is not only the lessons I’m planning or MEDU 601 that are driving my learning, the students are.
As I sit with students and watch them create their digital stories they’ve amazed me with their technological skills. I originally was going to have my students create paper slide videos since I thought this would be the easiest digital story for them to create…silly me. While discussing this project with the classroom teacher she let me know that the students have already created podcasts using garage band. I am not garage band literate, but a classroom of 9 year old students is. What I thought would be the biggest hurdle to overcome, teaching the students how to create the digital story using technology, was a non issue. In fact students were teaching me how to create garage band podcasts. This whole process has reminded me how adults really are technology immigrants and our students are technology natives. They have grown up with this technology and own it as part of their lives. It is part of who they are. Technology has been used for fun, for work and for relaxation by these students for as long as they can remember. We adults however still say, “I can remember when…” every time a new piece of technology is presented.
The students completing these digital stories with me are learning more, conceptually, than they ever have with this specific lesson regarding area. I’ve taught this project for at least 5 years, but never have I seen the students own this concept more than they have through the use of a digital story. Teaching area can be as simple, and boring, as Length x Width. But understanding the concept of area is much more important than just understanding the formula. Completing this project helped the students understand why people use area, how they use area, and how area is applicable to their lives.
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The goal of my mini project was to help my students more deeply understand a math concept (finding area). They were to do this by designing a blue print for a house and finding the area of each room, and the area of the house. Of course I wanted these students to be able to complete the task of multiplying length times width to find the area, but I also hoped that they would develop an understanding of why area is important in life, and who it’s important to. I have done this project with past students, but never through the use of digital stories. In the past the students did focus on, and learn, how to find the area of a given space. However, the learning stopped there.
As I am now leading my students through their first digital story I’m seeing much more from my students than just the ability to multiply length times width. Since creating a digital story is not just a question/answer process, the lesson must be taught differently. Once the lesson on finding area was completed (the question/answer process) I was able to delve into the rationale for people building houses, or creating blueprints. The rationale I gave the students for my design was to create a house for the victims of the earth quake in Haiti. Next I was able to facilitate a conversation among the students about what types of rooms these people would need. They quickly pointed out that people living in Haiti would not need things like indoor swimming pools or arcades because these room wouldn’t fit their needs. When I showed them that my blueprint had a garden in it, a number of bedrooms, a well, and a food storage room the students saw that the rooms I chose to add to my blueprint match my rationale for wanting to build a house. In doing this the students were able to begin to transfer some of what they had been learned area to real life uses of finding area. After showing the students my examples, they began to brainstorm rationales for building houses, and rooms that would match those rationales.
While I was using my mini project to help develop a deeper understanding of finding area a funny thing happened – I developed a deeper understanding of how to teach this lesson. I guess I never realized that I’d be learning so much about the way I can truly deepen learning experiences through the use of digital stories. I knew these stories would benefit my students, but I underestimated the impact it would have on my teaching.
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When I first set out to start this project I was over whelmed to say the least. I knew I wanted my students to create a story that encompasses grade level appropriate math standards, but from there I was lost. I think this is because I was trying to create something new. I was trying to design a digital story, while I was trying to design a performance task. This put a lot of stress on myself and the project. However, changing my perspective truly helped me view this mini project as an exciting new way to teach math. Instead of trying to create everything from the ground up I decided to take a performance task that I already have my students complete and incorporate a digital story into that project. Once I had settled on this new plan everything seemed to fall into place. What was a daunting task became an appealing way to expose my students to new math content in a new way.
The performance task that I am having my students complete has them understand area creating a blueprint for a house. After they create the layout of the house the students are asked to label the dimensions of each room, as well as the area of each room and the whole house. While I’ve always liked doing this activity with my class I’m now realizing how superficial it was. While the children may have learned how to find the area of a quadrilateral they weren’t understanding the importance of finding area as it pertains to real life. In having the students create a digital story that tells how, why, when, and where they built their house they are able to connect the skill of finding area to real life. Best of all the connections that will be made will stay with the students, and not be forgotten after the test like so many other individual skills are.
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